IMO’s decision to defer key ballast water items from the MEPC 76 virtual meeting agenda to the MEPC 77 meeting and to refer others to the status of correspondence, suggests a downgrading of ballast water matters by regulators.
Have regulators given up on ballast water? This seems a fair question considering the news that IMO has dropped most the ballast water items from the original agenda of MEPC 76, which, based on the experience of MEPC 75, was actually extended by an additional day to six days in total.
The new agenda brings Marpol annexes I, IV and VI and the AFS Convention (item 3), air pollution prevention (item 5), energy efficiency of ships (item 6), reduction of GHG emissions from ships (item 7), plastic litter (item 8), pollution prevention and response (item 9), report from sub-committees (item 10), work programme of committee (item 12) and consideration of committee (item 14) to the top of the list, with some of these items allocated discussion over two days.
As a result, the bulk of item 4, harmful aquatic items in ballast water, will now be considered by correspondence prior to the virtual meeting. This may or may not result in decisions or comments from MEPC 76 on the following items: consideration of compliance monitoring devices (CMDs), review of the ballast water record book (Intertanko et al), China’s comments on draft amendments, an update on the experience-building phase (EBP) and findings from the SGS Australia study on sample testing to D-2 standards.
Not discussing the SGS Australia study is bizarre, given the results of the survey. In the study, 46 samples of ballast water were taken from 35 vessels and tested against the D-2 performance standard using indicative (15 samples) and detailed (31 samples) analysis methods. One third (33%), or 10 out of 31, representative discharges were found to be non-compliant in the largest size class of organisms in the discharge standard (≥50 μm in minimum dimension). Out of 18 samples, four (22%) were not in compliance with the total residual oxidant (TRO) discharge limit. Indicative analyses gave 10%–15% false positive results.
“Not discussing the SGS Australia study is bizarre, given the results of the survey”
Ballast water treatment is now on the runway to 8 September 2024, when all new ships built on or after 8 September 2017 will be required to be fitted with D-2-compliant ballast water treatment systems, but the SGS Australia study suggests that not only is more work needed, there is a real need for contingency plans and guidance from IMO if such a high percentage of BWMS are likely to fail to meet the D-2 standards.
The global picture of ballast water treatment as given by IMO is not helped by the lack of progress in the USA. In 2018, the Vessel Incident Discharge Act (VIDA) was hailed as a crucial step forward for ballast water treatment system manufacturers seeking USGC type-approval status. The subsequent draft policy letter from the USCG denied the scientific evidence supporting changes to its testing procedure. The US Environmental Protection Agency is currently processing the comments from stakeholders and then the USCG has two years to issue companion regulations for enforcement.
The timing could lead to a perfect storm in 2024 – effectively unchanged USCG regulations on testing, accompanied by rigorous enforcement and IMO global implementation of D-2 standards, despite being clearly signalled that ballast water treatment systems are struggling to meet IMO standards. There needs to be a full discussion of ballast water testing and failure contingencies and guidelines, but the focus of regulators appears to be elsewhere.
Riviera Maritime Media’s Ballast Water Webinar Week begins on 22 June 2021 – use this link for more details and to register